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Missouri inmate’s hopes rest with Supreme Court

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FILE – In this Feb. 9, 2014 file photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections is Russell Bucklew who is scheduled to die for killing a romantic rival as part of a crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996. Bucklew, who suffers from a congenital condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, told the Associated Press Friday, May 16, 2014 that he is scared that the lethal drug could cause him to suffer or be left alive but brain-dead. His would be the first execution since Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after a vein collapsed following injection. (AP Photo/Missouri Department of Corrections, File)

FILE – In this Feb. 9, 2014 file photo provided by the Missouri Department of Corrections is Russell Bucklew who is scheduled to die for killing a romantic rival as part of a crime spree in southeast Missouri in 1996. Bucklew, who suffers from a congenital condition that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, told the Associated Press Friday, May 16, 2014 that he is scared that the lethal drug could cause him to suffer or be left alive but brain-dead. His would be the first execution since Oklahoma inmate Clayton Lockett died of a heart attack 43 minutes after a vein collapsed following injection. (AP Photo/Missouri Department of Corrections, File)

Death penalty opponent Herve Deschamps holds a sign over his head during a vigil outside St. Francis Xavier College Church hours before the scheduled execution of Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew, Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in St. Louis. A federal appeals court panel granted a temporary halt to the execution of Bucklew on Tuesday evening citing concerns that he could suffer during lethal injection due to a rare medical condition. The panel’s ruling could be overturned by the full appeals court, or by the U.S. Supreme Court. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

A group of death penalty opponents hold a vigil outside St. Francis Xavier College Church hours before the scheduled execution of Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in St. Louis. A federal appeals court has granted a stay of execution for Bucklew, hours before he was scheduled to die for killing a southeast Missouri man in 1996. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday cited concerns about Bucklews’ rare medical condition, which raised the risk of “unnecessary pain and suffering by the inmate.” (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Death penalty opponents Joyce Engle, left, and Kate McCoy hold a signs as they take part in a vigil outside St. Francis Xavier College Church ahead of the scheduled execution of Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in St. Louis. A federal appeals court has granted a stay of execution for Bucklew, hours before he was scheduled to die for killing a southeast Missouri man in 1996. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday cited concerns about Bucklews’ rare medical condition, which raised the risk of “unnecessary pain and suffering by the inmate.” (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

Death penalty opponents Charles Skaer, left, and Herve Deschamps, second from left, participate in a vigil with others outside St. Francis Xavier College Church hours before the scheduled execution of Missouri death row inmate Russell Bucklew on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, in St. Louis. A federal appeals court has granted a stay of execution for Bucklew, hours before he was scheduled to die for killing a southeast Missouri man in 1996. The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday cited concerns about Bucklews’ rare medical condition, which raised the risk of “unnecessary pain and suffering by the inmate.” (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

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BONNE TERRE, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri inmate with a rare condition that affects the blood vessels was handed a reprieve less than two hours before his scheduled execution, but the state may end up killing him later Wednesday if the U.S. Supreme Court says it can.

Russell Bucklew was scheduled to be executed at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday for the 1996 killing of a romantic rival. He would have been the first U.S. inmate put to death since last month’s botched execution in Oklahoma, in which the prisoner’s vein collapsed while the lethal drugs were being administered.

Bucklew, 46, has a condition that causes weakened and malformed veins, and his attorneys say this and the secrecy surrounding the state’s lethal injection drug combine to make for an unacceptably high chance of something going wrong during his execution.

After an 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel suspended the execution Tuesday, only to be overruled hours later by the full court, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito issued his own stay, setting the stage for the full high court to weigh the appeal. If the Supreme Court rejects the appeal, Missouri would have until midnight to carry out the execution.

Mike O’Connell, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Corrections, cautioned against reading too much into Alito’s intervention.

Alito handles emergency matters for states covered by the 8th Circuit, and two of the six inmates Missouri has executed since switching to a single-drug system in November had appeals that stretched well into the state’s 24-hour execution window before the Supreme Court allowed the state to proceed. One of them was executed nearly 23 hours after he originally was scheduled to die.

Bucklew suffers from a rare congenital condition — cavernous hemangioma — that causes weakened and malformed blood vessels, as well as tumors in his nose and throat. He told The Associated Press by phone last week that he is scared of what might happen during his execution.

During Oklahoma’s April 29 execution, inmate Clayton Lockett’s vein collapsed, and he writhed on the gurney before eventually dying of a heart attack more than 40 minutes after the start of a procedure that typically takes roughly one-fourth of that time to complete.

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